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I his work called Akhlaq-i-Nasri, Nasīr al-Dīn Tūsī, a Persian thinker of the Middle Ages, issued a theory of evolution that has the basic principles of Darwinian’s theory of evolution. Tusi begins his theory with the universe’s evolution, which first contained equal and similar elements. According to Tusi, internal contradictions are beginning to emerge as a result — some substances have begun to develop faster and differently than other substances. Then he explains how the elements evolved into minerals, then into plants, then into animals, and then into humans.

Tusi then explains how hereditary variability was a factor in the biological evolution of creatures:

“Organisms that benefit from new features more quickly are more variable. As a result, he gains advantages over other creatures. […] Bodies change as a result of internal and external interactions ”.

Then, Tusi discusses how organisms are able to adapt to the environment they belong to:

“Look at the world of animals and birds. They have everything they need for defense, protection and daily life, including strength, courage and proper tools (organs) […] Some of these organs are real weapons. […] For example, horns, teeth, claws, spikes, feet and hooves. The spines of some animals look like arrows. […] Animals that have no other means of defense (such as foxes and gazelles) are protected by their cunningnes and speed. […] Some of them, for example bees, ants and some bird species, have come together in communities to protect and help each other. ”

The Eastern thinker also recognized that there are three types of living things:

  • Plants
  • Animals
  • Humans

“Animals are superior to plants because they have the ability to move consciously and to look for food, find and eat. […] There are many differences between plant and animal species. […] First, the animal kingdom is much more complicated. In addition, reason is the most beneficial feature of animals. With the help of reason, they can learn new things and adopt new skills that they have not inherited. For example, the trained horse is at a higher level in the animal world. The first step to human perfection begins here. “

Then, Tusi explains how humans evolved from advanced animals such as the monkey:

“Such people (probably anthropoid primates) live in western Sudan and in other parts of the world. They are close to animals through their behavior and habits. […] Humans have traits that make them distinct from other creatures, but other traits unite them with the animal world, the plant world, and even inanimate objects. […] Before (human creation), all differences between organisms were of natural origin. The next step will be associated with spiritual perfection, will, the spirit of observation, and knowledge. […] All these facts have shown that the human being is placed on the middle rung of the evolutionary ladder. According to his inherent nature, man is associated with inferior beings and only with the help of the will can he reach a higher level of development ”.

There are differences, but also essential similarities with Darwin’s theory based on the notes Tusi had left.

Contradicting Darwin’s theory

Some elements contradict or at least have no place in Darwinian’s theory of evolution, such as the last one, which refers to human perfection. Also, the context, along with the reactions that such a theory generated, is different. In nineteenth-century Europe, especially in Britain, the theory of evolution changed the paradigm from an image of the organic world that was explained by the intelligent project, where all species were created individually, to a transformism based on adaptation.

Depiction of Nasīr al-Dīn Tūsī (1332–1406) (Source: https://aalequtub.com/)

Darwin’s intention was to understand and develop a mechanism to explain the evolution of organisms in mechanical parameters, similar to the principles of Newtonian mechanical physics developed two centuries earlier. Also, even the term “theory” is inappropriate for medieval Oriental thought, so it must be understood in this context in a broader sense.

Even in the absence of such a landmark, Newtonian mechanics, and the context of nineteenth-century Europe-specific determinism, the Persian thinker was able to develop, 500 years before Darwin, a theory with central elements in Darwinian evolution. Among these is the variety of organisms and the advantages that these variations have over others. Also, like Darwin, Tusi noted that species are adapted to face dangers and are “equipped” with the “tools” necessary for survival.

Science in the East

It is imperative to mention that Nasīr al-Dīn Tūsī is not only distinguished by this work. Apart from this theory, Tusi was a thinker who covered many fields, such as mathematics and astronomy, which were extremely popular in the schools of thought of the Middle East. Among these secular subjects (of course, he also addressed religious themes), he wrote Arabic versions of works by Euclid, Archimedes, and Ptolemy. He wrote 150 works, of which 25 are in Persian, the rest in Arabic, and a treatise is in Persian, Arabic, and Turkish, being the largest collection of works by an Islamic author.

Due to the time period when Tusi came up with this theory, or better said, though, not many people took him seriously as the East was heavily influenced and indoctrinated by Religion (Islam). Therefore, any sort of theory or thought that would try to prove the evolution/creation of men that did not include a God was harshly neglected.

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